While their Guitars Gently Weep

On the eve of the 27-year-old Madras Guitar Ensemble’s upcoming concert, Naveena Vijayan talks to the Western classical guitar music group, as they recount their fascinating journey

Published: 25th April 2015 06:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2015 06:05 AM   |  A+A-

Guitars Gently

Their journey has seen moments of lull and peak of activity, like the high and low notes of the guitar. But members of the Western classical guitar music group, Madras Guitar Ensemble, survived the wobbly ride, strumming the strings with a little more passion every time they made a comeback. Thanks to their rock, Thangadurai Samuel, whose undying passion for the art has kept the team motivated since 1988. After their last concert in the Christmas of 2012, the team is back with a concert to give Chennaiites a taste of their music, which, according to Samuel, has been peppered with a lot more lively Spanish numbers this time.

“We have made a lot of changes to our music this time, it is less serious. We have added pieces by great Spanish composers like Torroba (Federico Moreno Torroba), Tarrega (Francisco Tarrega) among others,” says Samuel. This is besides his own compositions and those of celebrated composers like Johann Pachelbel and Heitor Villa-Lobos. “I hope we get a good crowd,” he adds thoughtfully.

However, getting a good audience strength has never been a challenge for the group.

“There is a section of society which is interested in our music. It is just that when we go for sponsorships, they hesitate when we say that we will be performing western classical guitar,” he says, a shadow of disappointment clouding his face. “Film music dominates. However, as long as I am here, I shall continue to promote Western classical guitar and do my bit. Let us see how far we are going to succeed in a country that doesn’t support this music like Europe or America does,” says Samuel, who holds classes in Shenoy Nagar, and practice sessions at the CSI Synod office in Royapettah, every Sunday. Ironically, Samuel, who hails from a family of musicians, hasn’t undergone any formal training. While his brothers taught him how to read music when he was still a teenager, he owes his expertise to the long western classical guitar sessions on radio, and interactions with renowned artistes over the years. “There was no YouTube or Internet in the 1980s, I used to wait for the guitar sessions on radio and listen to it, and play all kinds of music,” he recalls. It was during one of those listening marathons that he came across classical guitarist John Williams’ music that stuck with him ever since. “Classical guitar is entirely different from normal guitar. It is like a mini orchestra. It can be played like a piano or tremolo also, and John is a pioneer in classical music. He exposed the classical guitar to the world,” he says with a sense of devotion.

Samuel’s group is 12-member strong, comprising doctors, engineers, and school students, who keep aside three hours from their weekend for practice, without fail. Five of them have been with the group since its inception, and many of his senior students now take classes for others. “The challenge has been to replace those who leave the city for higher studies, or get settled abroad. In such cases, we have to find a replacement and train them. That’s a strain,” he says. “Most students, after a certain level, find it very complicated and discontinue. I should appreciate the bunch I have, for pursuing it with dedication,” he says.

Chennai Western Music Association’s 13th concert by Madras Guitar Ensemble, conducted by Thangadurai Samuel, and sponsored by Prabhudas Ivanson, will be held on April 25 at The Music Academy, at 7 pm.

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